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41 Comments

Jason Fried says you cannot validate an idea

  1. 26

    This is mostly just semantic differences. If you listen to what he's saying, he's not using "validate" in the same way most of us do. He's assuming validate means "be certain it will work." Which of course he's right about: you can't actually be certain anything will work until it's out there working.

    But you can increase your confidence levels pre-launch. I wish he would've talked about how he does that.

    I asked him about validating ideas the IH podcast episode with him last year, and he said…

    • "The best way to validate your product is to put a price on it and release it to the market and see if people are willing to pay for it. That’s the best way."
    • "I don’t think you can ask people if things are good or not. I don’t think throwing something out there for free for a long time, then charging for it, is valuable."
    • "I think the best thing to do is just heads down, do what you think is the best thing. Something that you believe in, something that you can stand behind. Something that you’re doing because you understand why you’re doing it, versus doing it because you read it on a blog post. You don’t totally understand it but it sounded good so, like, that’s what we’re going to do. You have to make sure that all the way down to the bottom, there’s support. There’s foundation that you’ve poured, that you understand."
    • "Not to say that you should be ignorant, although I do think there’s a lot of value in it, to be honest…"
    • "…it’s good to have a little bit of surface information, to have a little sense and be kissed by some of that. But ultimately you’ve got to figure out at the core of you, what you want to do and how you want to do it and be true to yourself…"

    It's still a bit vague. If I had to summarize what I got from it in my own words, it's:

    • The best way to validate is to launch. I disagree. That's the most accurate way to validate, but also the riskiest and most time consuming, so you should begin validating far before that imo. Unless you started so small that you can launch in a day or two.
    • You have to make sure you understand what you're doing and why. I agree with that. I would he would talk more about how he comes to that understanding, because that's what validation is.
    • You need to strong personal convictions around what you make. I agree with that. David Hsu of Retool also made this point on the podcast recently.
    • Asking other people, "Is this a good idea," is worthless. I agree with that.
    • It's not bad to be ignorant about others' advice. I disagree. IMO knowledge is power, and what you should do is guard against blindly following advice or copying things you don't understand. Sure, ignorance is one way to guard against that, but it's a lazy way, and you miss out on some great info.
    1. 1

      100% i agree with that, the best way to validate the idea is to build it.

    2. 1

      You summarize it well. We cannot just take the few sentences he said without context.

      I agree with him that we can never have certainty, entrepreneurship is all about finding information then internalize it to build a solution. Even when companies like Airbnb "made" it, the situation is ever-changing (like COVID in 2020), so I'm sure even they're not certain about their growth.

    3. 1

      This is a great summary and I agree this is about semantics, thanks @csallen.

      I also think people are taking his perspective here as a personal affront, rather than taking it as his opinion—if one disagrees, just go about it another way heh.

    4. 1

      Someone please start summarizing IH podcasts.

      "The best way to validate your product is to put a price on it and release it to the market and see if people are willing to pay for it. That’s the best way."
      "I don’t think you can ask people if things are good or not. I don’t think throwing something out there for free for a long time, then charging for it, is valuable."

      💯

      That's the most accurate way to validate, but also the riskiest and most time consuming, so you should begin validating far before that imo.

      Time is wasted in both scenario, if I build it first I "waste" the time while practicing better development. If I take the path to marketing/validating first, I "waste" the time by practicing skills on that part. Time is spend anyway, so as it applies to everything balance matters.

      It's not possible to "validate" by building something and keeping it for yourself, or building nothing but talking/asking questions all day long about it.

      1. 5

        Time is spend anyway, so as it applies to everything balance matters.

        I'd think about it like this: The longer it's going to take you to build and release something, the more time you should spend validating beforehand. For example:

        • Weekend project? Maybe spend an hour thinking about its viability. Worst-case you wasted an hour and you work for 17 hours instead of 16 for the weekend. Otherwise, if your thinking turned up major problems, you saved yourself a whole weekend of wasted work.
        • Two-week project? Spend a day or two really researching it. I spent three days "validating" the idea for IH, which then took three weeks to build and launch. That felt pretty good to me.
        • etc.
        1. 1

          which then took three weeks to build and launch.

          When people say how long it took to launch their project I always wonder if they mean calendar time or actual work time, since they can be very different.

          It took me two months calendar time to launch Moon but that was me working on it 2 nights per week for 2 hours a night. So it was less than a week of “full time” work.

          🤷‍♂️

        2. 1

          💯 it's all about the tradeoffs.

  2. 23

    I've got right off JF in the past year. Used to be a product hero of mine.
    Of course you can validate an idea. This is the kind of pish people say on social media to try and cement their influencer status.

    You maybe can't validate EVERY idea, but to say you can't validate an idea is absurd.

    1. 5

      What Primer said.

      Kagan Validation for example is a wonderful tool to test whether your idea is an uphill or downhill idea.

      "3 paying customers. 48 hours. Don't build anything. Don't spend money."

      Can you find an exception to this method? Yes? And...?

      So tired of people treating this like fucking physics. [1] If something works most of the time then it's good advice. Literally, nothing you can say is airtight.

      "Make a product people love." People didn't love diamonds until N.W. Ayer and Sons created their propaganda campaign.

      Hiding behind airtight advice in this field is for intellectual cowards.

      [1] https://www.younglingfeynman.com/essays/physicsenvy

    2. 3

      Either you validate the idea or it gets validated when you decide to shut it down.

      I'm disappointed that JF got carried away with the term 'idea', that he forgot about the problem validation. Even if every idea can't be validated, existence of a problem with need gap is quintessential to start building a solution which has a potential to become ~the startup idea~.

      Perhaps if asked about problem validation he could say, 'If you don't know whether it's a right problem to solve, you have already failed' ¯\(ツ)

  3. 13

    What do you think of Derek Sivers opinion on that? He founded CDbaby, sold it for 20 Mio USD. I like the way he sees it. We all have ideas, few are those who build, even fewer are those who manage to sell it.

    Be an Executioner
    It’s so funny when I hear people being so protective of ideas. (People who want me to sign an nda to tell me the simplest idea.)

    To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.

    Explanation:
    Awful idea = -1
    Weak idea = 1
    So-so idea = 5
    Good idea = 10
    Great idea = 15

    Brilliant idea = 20
    No execution = $1
    Weak execution = $1.000
    So-So execution = $10.000
    Good execution = $100.000
    Great execution = $1.000.000
    Brilliant execution = $10.000.000

    To make a business, you need to multiply the two.
    The most brilliant idea, with no execution, is worth $20. The most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20.000.000.

    That’s why I don’t want to hear people’s ideas. I’m not interested until I see their execution.

  4. 8

    I find a lot of these arguments, similar to ones about 'MVPs' come down to totally different interpretations on what these things mean.

    In this video Jason seems to suggest you can't 'validate' something until you've built it and see how the market reacts.

    Whether he's right or not comes down to what 'validate' means to you.

    If you think 'validate' means 'guarantee eventual success', then he's absolutely right.

    If like me, you think 'validate' means 'do some research to assess how important the need is to people first', then he's surely wrong? Countless success stories of people doing this.

    1. 3

      Exactly!

      I think Jason is talking more about validating without building and only by talking with people.

      He is not against user research and interviews. But what he says is that these cannot guarantee you success. Even if people are enthusiastic about what you build, you will only know if it can be successful only once you ship it.

      1. 1

        I agree with this big time actually. Sometimes you can only validate so much before building something that is worth someone's time.

        Also important to mention is the concept of "invalidating" your idea. It's nearly impossible to "validate" if your criteria is "will this be successful". You will find out when you are successful. But you can usually figure out quickly when you are barking up the wrong tree.

    2. 3

      Being a need only applies to some of the good products imo, for 2 reasons.

      1. The great ones create their own markets. Steve Jobs said they never used focus groups at Apple.
      2. It's very hard to validate something that's based on good UX until you've let people try a relatively functional version. For example I found Uber and AirBnB to be dumb ideas which added nothing new until I actually tried them.
        Terminology is a chronic problem though for sure!
    3. 2

      Yup. That's a problem in this space. People think it's like Scientology, where "what's true is what's true for you."

      We need to start calling people out (politely) for playing fast and loose with definitions otherwise you can never have productive dialogue if we can't even agree on what the hell words mean.

    4. 1

      Yeah you're right, a 2-min clip really isn't going to say a lot about the context of the words.

  5. 7

    Guess I'm going back to aimlessly buying domain names

  6. 7

    I agree with this, to some extent and of course context specific, and actually so often people here on IH are seeking helping in validating an idea.

    I wrote about validating a vision, as I realised recently that I never really validated ideas like people preach...which is kind of along the lines of what he said.

    1. 2

      Thank you for the link, Rosie! That was an interesting read!

  7. 2

    This is so interesting to talk about. My 1st reaction is that his validation means something different from what we usually talk about. He meant certainty.

    I was just putting down my thoughts about how a founder can know whether their idea is worthwhile to pursue. I learned it the hard way in 2019 pivoting a 6-month product after burning a lot of our runway.

    One thing I want to point out is that a lot of founders/builders like to jump to "user interviews" to validate an idea, but now (after failing) I've decided that I would spend a little bit more time with myself to evaluate the idea before taking it to others. And this is because a lot of problems are really not worth solving, even if there are people who say they want it.

    Now I challenge myself with questions like:

    • Is my idea part of a global trend?
    • How long is time to value or AHA moment? Can users use it in seconds, minutes, or days and weeks?
    • Is it easy for people to tell their colleagues or friends? Can they try it out immediately?

    This is the framework I use that will help us founders think through early ideas and do the 1st layer of validation before finding people to talk to.

  8. 2

    Validation is about certainty. It's an activity you do to confirm the truth.

    Business is done under uncertainty. Validation is not a valid activity in the world of uncertainty. Instead, you make guesses, place bets, form a strategy, speculate, and so on.

    Different verbs, different mindset.

  9. 2

    I like Alexander Osterwalder's approach. He considers it a spectrum of evidence. So asking someone what they think is quick but provides weak evidence. That doesn't mean its a bad place to start. You then go up the spectrum to a landing page with a mock product that can be purchased is higher on the spectrum. It takes more time but your evidence is stronger. There is a good interview on the "Full Ratchet" podcast. I also read his book "Testing Business Ideas" which goes into a lot of detail on the topic. I agree with others, it comes down to what do you mean by validated which is subjective.

    1. 1

      I like it! I also think along the same line - validation is about collecting data points to increase the success of your idea before you spend too much time/resources on it.

  10. 2

    I 100% agree. To which degree is an idea really validated?

    I could get 10 people to pre-order my product, but that doesn't mean shit if they churn within a few weeks of using it.

    With that said, I don't think that Jason speaks about the same type of ideas that are popular here.

    Most Indiehackers build curated lists on Airtable or other one-off products. These are extremely easy to validate since you only have to make the sale once.

    Validating a SaaS or other subscription businesses is a whole different game.

  11. 1

    Great conversation on a complicated subject.

    Personally, I think the product/service lifecycle goes like this:

    1. Ideation
    2. Research - competition, market size/opportunity, differentiators
    3. Validation - landing page, MVP, actual product
    4. Traction - user adoption, revenue or your favorite metric
    5. Growth - stepping on the pedal somewhat and investing in the right places (or removing friction)
    6. Expansion - adding features and functionality to reach new markets or new customers

    You can "fail" in any step along the process but in my opinion that doesn't mean that the idea wasn't validated. If you validate the idea and fail in a later stage it was because you failed to achieve the traction, growth, or expansion you sought. Or, it's also possible to mishandle pieces of this along the way and blow it of your own accord. Let's say you overhire, substantially increase your burn rate without justification, or hire the wrong person/people.

    Also, if all you do is poll people or ask them questions in interviews I think there's a risk that you:

    a) talked to the wrong people/audience
    b) talked to the wrong market segment or slice
    c) could've experienced other factors (language barriers, cultural differences, a misunderstanding about what you're wanting to bring to market)

    The problem is that there are a lot of people with opinions and they could be right or they could be wrong.

  12. 1

    hhhhhmmmmmmmmmm.

    agree. i like the way he talks about this.

  13. 1

    I initially wanted to disagree, but really, he makes some good points, validating an IDEA is not impossible, so I do disagree, but it is very hard--practically impossible. But all that aside, the thing I'd focus on he does mention, what does it mean to be "validated" you're a multibillion dollar enterprise? You're a small happy and healthy organization with a strong product? A product that gives you good Work/Life balance? That is for you to decide really, but that is the big question.

  14. 1

    Based on this video its seems he's saying without presenting something to an audience you don't really know for sure if it's validated or not.

    I am thinking of user research prior to an MVP. You may ask, is this solution something you would use and pay for? If you get yes across the board, you then proceed with an MVP. But upon launch, all those people who said yes suddenly have no interest. So all that 'validation" wasn't really genuine. Once the product is built 'the market will dictate validation' when users sign up or are paying customers.

    I think that is what Jason meant here.

  15. 1

    I couldn't disagree more. Maybe on the most basic level in that you can't guarantee something by asking around but you can certainly pitch an idea to your potential market and validate that there is a market need for it. Even more so you can definitely invalidate and idea by asking around. I especially detest his rant about if you can't invalidate ideas by yourself then you are already lost. How are you supposed to have knowledge of every single market and need out there. I recently came up with a product I thought was really cool, in tests I was able to show that it could increase conversion rates by a huge percent in a simple and automated way, everything about it seemed like a gold mine. I pitched it to the people who would be using it, marketers, and they told me there is no need for it because of the way they do their work there is no fit for mine. Had I not asked I would have spent months more working on a dead end project.

  16. 1

    He’s not saying don’t do research. He’s saying you can’t know if something will work until people are using the real thing. As long as something is hypothetical, there are unknowns.

  17. 1

    If "validate" means "certainty" then he's absolutely right. But the question I want to know is: should we stop or continue to validate ideas as usual?

  18. 1

    Here's the thing... and Jason is sort of right... validation is often treated like an endpoint i.e. you have an idea or product or you find an audience with a problem; you ask people if they would buy it, and if they say yes, that is somehow considered validation to proceed.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. I followed this path and now I'm paying for it.

    • I launched TapeReal to help people easily record/share conversations through mobile
    • I gathered feedback, iterated the product, and asked people if they would pay for it
    • Many folks said yes and 80% of active users started paying for it...

    At this point I was like, WOW... I have a validated business! Now I only needed to acquire more users/customers and begin the cycle of growing revenue.

    Unfortunately, things didn't pan out that way...

    I ended up parting ways with my tech co-founder and couldn't release new app updates for a few months.

    On top of that, we had lockdowns/the pandemic, markets & economies were shifting/suffering, users started to develop buyer remorse, product quality started to suffer, and I made mistakes in retaining our paid users...

    Does that mean my business is no longer validated???

    No, it just means that I had to learn, be resilient, and continue to test and iterate.

    Instead of looking at validation has a finite goal or endpoint, we need to adopt (as Simon Sinek would say) "an infinite mindset". I think validation as an ongoing process, and you can experience validation in various forms throughout your journey.

    It's an evolution, not an outcome.

    1. 1

      I don't think what you're talking about is validation but traction.

      It seems to me that the idea was validated once you started bringing customers onboard your solution. Now, the degree of validation can be debated and I've said that on other posts. To me, a B2C solution that brings in 10 users @ $2.99 is not validated. If you bring in a thousand, maybe/maybe not; it depends.

      Traction on the other hand is looking at what your solution is doing and evaluating it for trends that you can effect. For example, our mobile app required registration (give us your email address and you have to create a username and password). People complained, I listened and we removed it. I think less friction is a good thing and it should help us continue to get more traction. But I won't know until this release has been out for a while. In the meantime, this newest version has two serious bugs that were causing us to get a bunch of 1 star reviews. I reacted as quickly as I could (unfortunately it was a holiday in Ukraine and a weekend) but the issues are being resolved and hopefully, we'll have a new version out tomorrow.

      So, to me, it seems like if you aren't seeing the traction you expect and you decide to kill off a product or service, it wasn't because of validation but because of lack of traction.

  19. 1

    I've been a JF/Basecamp/37Signals fan for forever. I don't agree with this one though.

    I support the point that you can't KNOW 100% what someone will pay for or use without seeing if they actually will. Of course! You can't predict the future. That's obvious.

    But should you commit to building a large, time-consuming, expensive thing without having any sense of whether your effort will go completely to waste and no one will use it or pay for it? Hell no.

    I would like to see if he articulates it differently when he writes a blog post about it. Either way he's still a legend, I don't have to agree with him on everything to still respect him.

  20. 1

    I'm not sure why you embedded through another user which made tons of pre-sales to "validate an idea" now says this. I'm not following but forced to read these conflicts, how do people follow and agree with it. 🤯

    About the validation, Jason Fried possibly looking from another angle then we are. You can't validate a basecamp scale idea just for asking people around. You start it, work towards it and with the right decisions along the way you become basecamp. If he tried to validate basecamp idea in ih like forum, he would get 10 views and a few feedbacks on the landing page. If he validated it through ph, he'd get 100-200 initial users and all those people would chase the next shiny product. He'd come back to ih to ask about what to do about churn.

  21. 1

    I second what JF and Rosie say. In my opinion, even if someone/or a group validates an idea it's of no use. Because validating an idea is extremely primitive, can be good conversation starters, nothing more.

    And yeah, I assumed that validate means guarantee eventual success as @charlierward mentioned in his reply.

    1. 1

      If that's your definition then he is of course right.

      'Validation' is a broad term, and many interpret it differently though. My interpretation is that all activity around reducing risk for a product/business (such as say, talking to some users) is 'validation'.

      My issue is that a bunch of people who share my interpretation may take it at face value, and stop doing sensible risk reduction techniques up front like talking to users, or considering how large the market size is, or generally assessing how important the user need you're building for is.

  22. 0

    HE can't validate idea.
    This twit shit is just his projection onto you.

    1. 6

      Poor Jason, I'm pretty sure you could teach him a thing or two about validation.

  23. 2

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